The telephone is a marvellous instrument when you choose to use it, but a pain in the neck if it rings and disturbs your activities. This should be remembered when you contact a customer. Always ask him if you disturb him in a meeting and if you do you should ask him when you can ring him back. You will be assured that he will at that moment dedicate the necessary time to listen to you.
When you want to use the telephone ask yourself the question: is it necessary to phone or can it be done by fax? If you decide to use the phone prepare yourself for the call. Introduce yourself in a clear way and explain the reason for the conversation. Have always pen and paper ready to note answers you receive from the customer. Listen to the other person and avoid unnecessary interruptions. Be precise in your questions and remarks.
For the sales of consumer goods the telephone is used as a primary instrument for selling which is know as telemarketing. For the sales of professional goods that require person to person selling, it can be used to gather information, to provide information to customers and to provide customer service.
Sometimes it is better to separate the selling process from the information-gathering process. In such cases, you should emphasise to customers and prospects that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say and that you want their honest perceptions, which are not related to any selling effort from your side. This applies in particular to market research.
Market research, in its most simple form, involves asking questions. There is no medium more effective for this purpose than the telephone. It is quick and cost-efficient. The market research should be carried out by a skilled researcher to find out basic information about the customer and to develop better prospect lists. Typical questions for this would include the following:
- What are my best customers like and why are they my best customers? (Who are they, in what field do they work, how do they feel about my products and doing business with me?).
- What do my best customers think about my competition? (What are they buying from my competitors, why am I at an advantage or disadvantage?).
- What are my customer’s plans for the future? (What products do they need from me?).
- What else can I sell to my customers? (Are they fully aware of my product line or should I develop new products?).
- How satisfied are my customers?(What can I do to improve or what other services should I offer?).
- Why have many leads not been converted to first time sales? (What can “rejecters” tell me about what I am doing wrong or did not do for them?).
- Why have my first time customers failed to become regular customers? (Was our product not up to their expectations, are they aware of the other products we sell?).
- Why have some customers become irregular buyers? (How did I loose contact, have their needs changed, is competition more active?).
Answers to these questions, well recorded and tabulated should help you to increase your business and improve your sales approach.
For the sales force the telephone is an instrument to make appointments, follow up visits if a quick reply is required, provide information and maintain a regular contact with the customers in between the calls and establishing contacts with prospects. Making appointments can be done by the salesman himself or a secretary. The appointments should always be confirmed by fax.
Questions that are asked during the visits sometimes require quick action. If it concerns factual information the fax can be used. If it requires explanation you should use the phone. Assure yourself that you have all information required to avoid an unnecessary second call.
If you have information that could interest a customer and might lead to a visit, you can use the phone as well. It gives the opportunity to hear the reaction of your customer and might lead to another visit or offer. Customer contact can be compared to a stone thrown in the water: when it touches the water you see the effect clearly but this disappears very fast. Therefore it is necessary to maintain the contact on a regular basis! Use the phone to show your interest in this customer, ask for possible developments and the eventual necessity to see him. When leaving too much time between your calls, your competitors might have reacted in a better way and you can loose an order. Loosing an order, by not knowing that it existed, should never happen to you!
When a customers needs assistance he will normally phone the salesman, who should assess the importance of the problem to be solved. He should explain to his customer what steps will be taken by the company:
- he will answer himself
- he will contact the department that must provide the solutionin that case he will inform the customer what action will be taken
- he will inform the customer when he will be contacted again by phone.
You undoubtedly will have some small customers that you do not want to loose, but that do not justify frequent visiting. Also here the telephone is the most efficient way to maintain contact.
Prospecting new customers could also be done properly by the phone. You must have your story ready to interest these potential customers as the phone call should lead to a sales visit in order to add them to your customer list.
The lesson to be learned is simple. Using the telephone in an intelligent and innovative way can save a lot of money if calls substitute more expensive ways of reaching the customer.